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Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom

Virgin Media has retained its superfast broadband crown and kept BT at bay, according to the latest figures from Ofcom. 

Ofcom’s survey using data gathered throughout November 2012 places Virgin Media on the top spot for the fastest downloads but ranks BT best for uploads. 

Essentially, not much has changed since the last report. Even when we take a closer look at the figures to see how the two ISPs services compare for things like latency and jitter we see the same story more or less – Virgin Media’s download speeds outstrip BT’s but the suggestion is that BT’s connections are more reliable. 

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom

What’s changed since the last report is that more Virgin Media customers have been bumped up to the faster 30Mbps packages as a result of the speed doubling programme. BT has also been busy rolling out its fibre-based broadband network which now is available to 13 million premises and is touted as the biggest in the UK. 

A BT spokesperson said: “With the successful launch of our faster Infinity product, and the growth of our fibre footprint – which is now the largest in the UK – we are helping more UK consumers get superfast broadband and increasing the average UK downstream speed.” 

At the last count, only 7 per cent of the 13 million are connected, meaning that the average speed figures for superfast should continue to increase as more customers sign up.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


What are the average superfast broadband UK speeds?

For superfast connections the UK’s average download speed has jumped up to 44.6Mbps. In the last report the average speed was pegged at 35.8Mbps and there’d been a marked decrease in average speeds since the surveys began in November 2010.

On average, superfast broadband speeds in the UK are faster than they’ve ever been. Ofcom attributes this to both increased availability of BT’s FTTC product and Virgin Media’s speed doubling efforts. Compare this with the current UK average speed of broadband products.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s fastest in superfast broadband?

Virgin Media currently offers the fastest download speeds with its Virgin Media 100 up to 100Mbps package.

Virgin Media 100 clearly provided the fastest average maximum speeds (103.9Mbps-105.3Mbps) that at their fastest actually exceeded the advertised headline speeds. Over 24 hours, Virgin Media 100 provided speeds between 90.4Mbps-94.9Mbps but during the busy peak hours (between 8:00PM-10:00PM) there was some slowdown (86.1Mbps-91.8Mbps).

Interestingly, the speeds racked up by the fastest BT product – the up to 76Mbps Infinity 2 product – were just fractionally faster than the mid-tier Virgin Media 60 (up to 60Mbps) service.

Looking at the speeds clocked up by both Virgin Media 30 (up to 30Mbps) and BT Infinity 1 (up to 38Mbps) again we can see that the maximum speeds are pretty similar. Over 24 hours and at peak times, BT Infinity 1 outstrips the entry level Virgin Media service slightly.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s got the fastest superfast broadband uploads?

While Virgin Media might be commanding headline download speeds, BT leads in terms of fastest uploads.

BT’s premium Infinity 2 service consistently provides upload speeds of above 15Mbps, a little shy of the advertised headline speed of 19Mbps but a clear leader nonetheless.

The BT Infinity 1 package provided upload speeds closer to its advertised headline 9.5Mbps. Neither Virgin Media 30 or Virgin Media 60 were shown to be able to provide an upload speed higher than 5Mbps and the heavyweight Virgin Media 100’s upload speeds hovered around the 7Mbps mark, almost half as fast as BT Infinity 2’s upload speeds.


What else does Ofcom’s superfast broadband speed report measure?

Aside from cataloging speeds, Ofcom’s superfast broadband report looks at quality and consistency. Things like latency, DNS response times, failure rates and jitter can be as important as download and upload speeds. If you’re getting superfast broadband to do specific things like multiplayer gaming then the lowest possible latency is ideally what you want. Page load times and DNS failure rates give you an idea of how reliable your web connection will be for general web browsing while a high jitter rate can affect streaming video services like YouTube and BBC iPlayer.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s got the best superfast broadband web browsing times?

Overall, all the packages were at some point loading pages within 400 milliseconds. Ofcom’s numbers suggest that BT’s Infinity 2 up to 76Mbps service provides the best service overall.

Interestingly, the BT Infinity 1 service seemed to be the worst for page load times, providing a greater variety of results. All of the Virgin Media packages provided similar load times over 24 hours.

With all the packages, there was a noticeable trend where page load times would be worse during peak hours.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom

Who’s got the best superfast broadband latency?

The lower your latency, the better your Skype and online gaming experiences are likely to be. Latency or ping is the time it takes for one packet of data to travel from your computer to another and is used to measure how responsive your broadband connection is. The rule of thumb with latency is that the lower the better.

Ofcom found that the superfast broadband packages around or under 20 milliseconds.

During peak times, Virgin Media’s lines suffered from slightly higher rates of latency whereas with the BT superfast products, latency was virtually the same regardless of the time of day.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom

Who’s got the best superfast broadband packet loss?

Packets are tiny pieces of data and packet loss refers to the percentage of data that’s lost during transmission over a broadband connection.

As with latency, high percentages of packet loss can lead to problems in online gaming and videocalling services like Skype.

As was the case with the last set of figures we saw from Ofcom, BT’s Infinity services provided a consistently low rate of packet loss, under 0.2 per cent, whereas Virgin Media broadband suffered from higher percentages during peak hours. Virgin Media 60 in particular registered the highest percentage of packet loss, as high as 0.4 between the hours of 8:00-10:00PM.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s got the best superfast broadband DNS response times?

DNS response times or resolution times refers to the time it takes for your ISP to match a website URL (i.e. google.com) with an IP address. When DNS response times are high, this can affect your web browsing experiences and make for slow page loading times.

BT just nudges past Virgin Media here registering DNS response times of around 20 milliseconds or in the case of BT Infinity 2, just under. Virgin Media’s packages aren’t hugely disadvantaged to be honest but for what it’s worth all the DNS response times collected by Ofcom showed times higher than 20 milliseconds in all cases at all times of day.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s got the worst superfast broadband DNS failure rates?

Along with DNS response times, DNS failure rates refer to instances where your ISP’s DNS servers fail to match a URL with an IP address. This happens occasionally when you’re searching for a well known site URL, like www.netflix.com for example, and your browser window flashing up an error message, saying that the server is unavailable or the host could not be found.

BT’s failure rates on both its packages were significantly lower than all Virgin Media’s services.

Virgin Media broadband still the UK’s speed king for downloads, says Ofcom


Who’s got the worst superfast broadband jitter rates?

Jitter refers to the stability of a connection or to be exact, the rate of change of latency. Again, the lower the rate of jitter, the more stable and consistent your broadband experience will be.

Again, BT’s jitter rates are significantly lower on both downloads and uploads. With upload speeds, BT’s jitter rates on both packages were close to zero and on the up to 76Mbps Infinity 2 service its close to non-existent. There’s a common trend across all services for jitter to increase during peak times, which is when the networks are the most busy with evening trafffic.

So what does this all mean?

Not much has chnaged since the last Ofcom report – Virgin Media’s download speeds are still head and shoulders above what BT can offer. Even Virgin Media’s entry level and mid-tier services now give both of BT’s FTTC Infinity fibre broadband products a run for their money in terms of speed. Where BT loses out in download speed however it compensates for in stability.

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